Nurses at a service that supports adults with learning disabilities in Doncaster are threatening to strike over cuts in pay and conditions after the service was taken over by a private provider.
They claim changes in staff and uncertainty over the service’s future have unsettled vulnerable service users, while nurses’ morale has hit rock bottom.
The supported living service, which works with more than 140 people with learning disabilities and includes 24-hour care, was taken over by Care UK in September last year. It followed the awarding of a contract for the service by Doncaster Council.
Rob Green, a spokesman for Unison’s Doncaster health branch, said some nurses had already left the service, which was previously run by the NHS, because of planned changes announced in December.
Around 25 remaining nursing staff were being asked to accept new terms and conditions that equate to an average £500 a month pay cut, he said.
New contracts would mean reduced “enhancement” payments for working unsociable hours, reduced annual leave and moving to statutory maternity/paternity provision and statutory sick pay.
Unison has balloted its members for strike action with the results due later today.
“There is no morale – they’re just devastated,” Mr Green told Nursing Times. “They work towards building settled lives for service users, but when you don’t know what’s happening with the service it’s hard to plan and do.”
One staff nurse, who is facing an effective £350 a month pay cut and considering leaving the service, described the situation as “horrendous”.
“I have never seen such low morale with people desperately trying to work out whether to abandon ship or stick with the service users,” the nurse told Nursing Times.
“Some of them are displaying behaviour I haven’t seen for years and years because they have got new faces and new staff coming in.”
Mr Green claimed changes in staffing ratios meant there was a risk service users with challenging behaviour could be moved to other services or back into hospital-based care.
But Care UK told Nursing Times its plan was necessary to keep the service viable and service users had responded well to new ideas, including involving them in staff recruitment.
“From the outset, the council made it very clear that whichever provider was chosen to deliver this service would have to reduce spend as well as improve the service,” said a spokeswoman for the company.
“Our proposal is to do this without reducing basic pay while protecting future annual pay increments and securing NHS future final salary pension rights for everyone transferring to Care UK.
“We believe the best way to achieve this is to review the rates and opportunities for things like working evenings or weekends, and to bring paid holiday and sick pay into line with what is more normal for this sector,” she added.
“There will still be enhanced rates available to nursing staff and we are offering a scheme that will compensate individuals for projected change in earnings for a further year from this March 2014.”
She said: “Ultimately, we have to remember that the council asked us to find a sustainable solution for delivering a high quality service for over 140 vulnerable Doncaster residents at a time when the public sector is facing massive budget pressures.
“We are confident that our proposals will ensure the service continues to support all current users, including those with particularly complex needs.”
The spokeswoman said only one placement review was under way. This was to find a more suitable property for an elderly woman who could no longer manage the stairs in her house, she said.
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